Every year, thousands of surgeries are performed across the United States. While many of these patients make a full recovery, others are not so lucky. Unfortunately, surgeons are not exempt from the possibility of making a mistake or a poor decision that can compromise the health and safety of the patient. According to The Joint Commission, one of the most dangerous, and far too common, dangers facing surgical patients is the risk of surgery tools left in the body.
Surgery Tools Left in Body a Prevalent Concern
Known as “retained surgical items” (RSIs), there is an alarming number of incidents reported involving surgery tools left inside patient bodies. Estimates from The Joint Commission indicate that numerous reports of RSIs occur every year in the U.S. Of the 770 such reports documented in between 2005 to 2012, 95 percent of patients required extended hospital stays, and 16 people died. Healthcare experts believe that the total number of RSI incidents may be significantly higher, even in the thousands, but many incidents go undiagnosed or reported.
Common Trends in Retained Objects
During surgery, the medical team uses a variety of tools and instruments. The most common RSIs found in patients in the U.S. include:
- Stapler components
- Broken instrument pieces
- Sharp materials
RSIs mostly occur in emergencies or in operations where the procedure suddenly changes. The most common locations for these incidents include areas where invasive procedures are performed, such as ambulatory surgery centers, labor and delivery rooms, and standard operating rooms.
Risks of Surgery Tools Left in Body
The risks associated with RSIs are numerous. The obvious risk is the physical injuries that can occur when a surgical tool or instrument is left inside the body. In addition, there is also the risk for severe emotional and psychological trauma, overwhelming medical expenses, and an altered quality of life. A few alarming examples include:
- In 2006, a man fell violently ill and believed he had a stomach virus. After days of illness, his doctor ordered a CT scan, and found several surgical sponges fused to his intestines from the previous year when he had digestive surgery. The injuries were so extensive that the patient required numerous surgeries and spent weeks in a medically induced coma. Doctors removed the infected sections of intestine and rerouted his digestive tract, but little could be done. For the rest of his life, his bodily waste will be collected outside his body in a pouch that he must regularly change.
- In 2010, a woman felt that something was just not right as her abdomen swelled excessively following a cesarean section. Six weeks post-operation, she looked pregnant again and her bowels had shut down. An x-ray revealed the presence of a washcloth inside her abdomen that had become lodged among her intestines causing infection. She was hospitalized for almost three weeks.
- In 2012, a nurse fell violently ill, and a CT scan indicated the presence of a surgical sponge left in her body in 2005 when she underwent a hysterectomy. The nurse suffered from extensive health complications, anxiety and depression, and disabilities.
What Patients Can Do
While it can be difficult to personally identify an RSI, individuals who have had surgery and subsequently have unexplained illness or injuries should consult their healthcare provider. Being proactive in diagnosing and treating an RSI can greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.
It is also important for patients diagnosed with an RSI to explore their legal rights. When surgical tools are left inside the body, the patient is violated in a most inhumane way. But these patients have the right to protect themselves and the stability of their future.